As any longtime reader of this august publication will attest, The Stranger’s most cherished principle is surely our vigilance against conflicts of interest in our coverage of the arts. In this one solitary instance, I am prepared to make an exception to our vaunted ethical standard, because the circumstance is truly exceptional: The brilliant British singer/songwriter/guitarist/raconteur Robyn Hitchcock is playing tonight at the Columbia City Theater, where he will be joined on stage by, among others, Fastback/Young F. Fellow/all-purpose wizard Kurt Bloch, newly minted Death Cab for Cutie member Dave Depper, and your humble narrator. (I’ve been singing harmonies with Hitchcock onstage and on records for just over a decade.) I can explain:
From his work in the original too-good-to-be-popular/too-folk-to-be-punk/too-rock-to-be-folk/too-influential-not-to-be-reissued group the Soft Boys in the late-’70s through three decades as a solo artist, Hitchcock has written a dazzling library of songs that wind through the inner life with an astonishing emotional and intellectual range. The names everyone mentions in relation to RH—John Lennon, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake—are all valid reference points, but when you consider how very different each of those artists were, it's worth considering: What must someone who suggests all three sound like?
Unlike many a graying (or, indeed, fully grayed) rock’n’roll eminence going through the new-material motions, Robyn keeps making records that are better than the ones he made when he was young. Part of this is down to vogues in production styles, but truly, I believe it has more to do with the idea that if you apply yourself to an art form for your whole adult life, you actually get better at it. No one has any trouble accepting this premise when it comes to literature, or even painting, but somehow, songwriters tend to have a narrow window of relevance that slams shut for everyone but hardcore devotees. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and I love seeing (and hearing) it evaporate from my vantage point, stage left, every time I enjoy the indescribable pleasure of Garfunkeling for Robyn Hitchcock.
“Rock and roll is an old man’s game,” he said not too long ago. “So I’m staying in it.”
That’s very good news.